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Technical Writing For Engineers


Values and units are not hyphenated when used as adjectives unless they are spelled out. ... Books of Mormon, not Book of Mormons ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Technical Writing For Engineers

Technical Writing For Engineers
  • ChE 477 (UO Lab)
  • Larry Baxter Stan Harding
  • Brigham Young University

  • Why Write?
  • Mechanics
  • Outlines
  • Paragraphs
  • Punctuation, grammar
  • Variety of common grammatical errors
  • Colons, dashes, etc.
  • Style
  • Concise writing
  • Active vs. passive structures
  • Tense

Writing Is Essential
  • Utilitarian aspects
  • May be the single most important skill you
  • Huge impact on your professional career.
  • Engineers are (and must be) excellent writers.
  • Gratification aspects
  • Lifelong activity.
  • Permeates all aspects of life.
  • Enhances reading, speaking, and all aspects of

Rules Depend on Your Shoes
Solid bar indicates which situations apply.
  • Casual (sandals) Even old friends cringe when
    you violate rules at this level. However,
    communicating as if wearing wingtips when
    actually wearing sandals may also represent poor
  • Informal (tennis shoes) These rules are
    important for informal communication with clients
    or managers and first discussions with
  • Formal (wingtips) These rules are important for
    formal communication, official or archival
    documents, messages to the king, and similar
    situations. This category includes rules
    important in all other categories.

Use Available Tools
  • Write and organize an outline first. (Use Outline
    feature of MS Word or other programs).
  • Outline your paper to the paragraph level.
  • Structure paragraphs.
  • Pay attention to red and green underlines in MS
    Word and learn how to use them (and other
  • First drafts are rarely acceptable as final
  • Any message can be presented in any length.

General Guidelines
  • Be direct.
  • Be specific.
  • Be concise.
  • Use active voice and present tense when

Structure of a Paragraph
  • Paragraphs should (generally) start with a topic
  • Everything in the paragraph should support the
    topic sentence.
  • Long paragraphs should end with a summary

Elements of Critical Thinking
  • Start with and recognize premise and assumptions.
  • Develop ideas consciously using both deductive
    and inductive reasoning.
  • Dont advocate or advertise Just report and
  • Self-critical analysis is essential.

Grammar Terminal Prepositions
  • Ending with Prepositions
  • The computer did not know where the signal was
  • The computer did not know where the signal was.
    (The computer could not sense the signal.)
  • We did not know who to give the report to.
  • We did not know to whom the report should be

Grammar Hyphens
  • The high-temperature tank ruptured.
  • The twenty-five-meter pipe.
  • The blue-green fluid leaked. (compound adjective
    in this case) OR The leaking fluid was blue
    green. (predicate modifier in this case and is
    not hyphenated)
  • The six- or eight-bit A/D converter.
  • The in situ analysis indicates poor mixing. (no

Grammar Dashes
  • Many dashes and one hyphen. We focus on three em
    dash (2x hyphen) en dash (1.5x hyphen)
    hyphen (the one on the keyboard) -.
  • MS Word provides these under Insert/Symbol/Special
  • Em dash is most common (other than hyphen) and
    can also be formed by two repeated hyphens
    surrounded by words or by Ctrl Alt Num- ( Num- is
    the minus sign on keypad).
  • Em dash replaces commas and sometimes colons
  • Steady stateif it exists at allwas not achieved
    during these experiments.
  • En dash separates numbers (but words are
    generally preferred) and is formed from Ctrl
  • The 45105 ºC temperature range.

Grammar Units
  • The National Institute of Standards and
    Technology, NIST, is the US representative to the
    SI and similar committees and has an extensive
    list of rules for units. See file on website. A
    few common issues
  • Abbreviated units that derive from peoples names
    are capitalized (but spelled out units are not).
  • V, K, and kg volt, kelvin, and kilogram but
    degrees Celcius
  • Celcius (not centigrade), Fahrenheit, and Rankine
    degrees have degree symbols as part of the letter
    (space between number and degree symbol, not
    between degree and letter). Kelvin does not use
    degree symbol, nor do you say degree (3 kelvins,
    not 3 degrees Kelvin).
  • 45 ºC, not 45º C, 68 ºF, 512 ºR, 325 K
  • 45º is an angle, not a temperature.
  • Values and units are not hyphenated when used as
    adjectives unless they are spelled out.
  • 3 mm tube or three-millimeter tube, but not 3-mm

SI Base Units
Relevant Special Derived Units
Units Accepted for Use With SI
Units Not Accepted for SI
  • Outdated CGS units.
  • Viscosity SI units Pa s should be used in place
    of poise, P (1 P 0.1 Pa s).
  • Kinematic viscosity SI units m2/s should be used
    in place of stokes, St (1 St 10-4 m2/s).
  • Length SI unit meter or micrometer should be
    used in place of micron (µ). However, micrometer
    (µm) is fully accepted and the ångstrom (1 Å
    0.1 nm), nautical mile (1 nautical mile 1852 m)
    and the knot (1 knot 1 nautical mile/s 1852
    m/3600 s) are temporarily accepted.
  • Outdated miscellaneous units.
  • Pressure SI unit Pa should be used rather than
    torr (1 torr 101 325/760 Pa) or atmosphere (1
    atm 101 325 Pa). However, the bar (1 bar 100
    000 Pa) is temporarily accepted.

Grammar Perform a Which Hunt
  • The pump which malfunctioned had a bad seal.
  • The pump that malfunctioned had a bad seal.
  • German, which language I speak, has many (six I
    believe) words for you.

Grammar Case and Tense Matter
  • The assignment came to me and my partner (not my
    partner and I).
  • My instructor told me he was most impressed.
  • The two major contributors were my partner and I
    (not me and my partner).
  • The author of this report was I (not me).
  • The data fit a straight line and are consistent
    with first-order kinetics.

Grammar Dangling Constructions
  • Ensure the subject of introductory sentences
    agrees with that of the remainder of the
  • Having studied the costs, several questions
  • Having studied the costs, we posed the following
  • To obtain more precise data, surrogate chemicals
    were used.
  • To obtain more precise data, investigators used
    surrogate chemicals.

Grammar Avoid Split Infinitives
  • The coal was able to barely burn.
  • The coal was barely able to burn.
  • The tank was too cold for the reaction to
    significantly proceed.
  • The tank was too cold for the reaction to proceed

Less Is More
  • Wordiness represents a constant challenge.
  • Concise sentences and terms have more impact and
    hold interest.
  • Concise writing requires significant rewriting.

Conciseness Tips
  • Useless phrases.
  • There was an increase in temperature.
  • The temperature increased (changed from 75 ºC to
    100 ºC).
  • Redundant words.
  • The time-temperature history of the particle
    appears in the figure.
  • The particle temperature history appears in the

Conciseness Tips
  • Non-essential Relative Clauses
  • The wires that come from the thermocouple that is
    in the distillation column require rerouting.
  • The distillation column thermocouple leads
    require rerouting.
  • Unnecessary Prepositions
  • The reading of the temperature meter for the hot
    tank was 214 C.
  • The hot-tank temperature meter read 214 C.

Conciseness Tips
  • Empty Prepositional Phrases
  • Students are required by the university to make
    payments of their fees at the time of
  • University students are required to pay
    registration fees.
  • Vagueness
  • Many students feel anxiety stress when they find
    themselves in a testing situation.
  • Exams make many students nervous (or anxious).

Conciseness Tips
  • Unnecessary qualifiers
  • It should be noted that the reactor was hot.
  • The reactor was hot.
  • Indirect references
  • The professor in my section of the Unit
    Operations Laboratory class wears funny clothes.
  • Br. Baxter wears funny clothes.

International Issues
  • American and British (German French) define
    billion and larger numbers differently
  • US million 106 billion 109 trillion
    1012 centillion 10303
  • UK million 106 billion 1012 trillion
    1018 centillion 10600
  • Conclusion dont use words for numbers greater
    than a million (use SI-style designations).
  • Commas commonly appear in numbers reported from
    overseas where US practice is to use decimal
  • 45,249.69895 in the US is 45 249,698 995 in many
    other places.
  • Resolution use an en space to separate numbers
    into groups of three and use the decimal point as
    usual. The number above is best represnted as, 45
    249.698 995. However, 8,143.2347 is 8143.2347. If
    you see 45 249,698 995 recognize it as a
    (probably European) version of 45 249.698 995.

Use Symbols Accurately
Plurals and Other s Problems
  • Its means it is. Its means belonging to it.
  • Its rare that the level exceeds its upper
    control limit.
  • The primary noun in titles and similar compound
    words receives an s when plural.
  • Books of Mormon, not Book of Mormons
  • Points of view, not point of views (but better is
  • Some plurals depend on meaning
  • Books have indexes. Numbers and variables have
  • Some institutions (Chicago Manual of Style)
    prefer appendixes rather than appendices for
  • A single chemical species. (The word specie
    refers to coinage, not chemicals)

Subject Verb Agreement
  • Subject-verb agreement requires attention,
    particularly when the subject and verb are
    separated by other words.
  • The thermocouples wired to the A/D board indicate
    reactor status.
  • Compound subjects linked by and generally require
    plural verbs.
  • Temperature and, for non-ideal gases, pressure
    influence gas enthalpy.
  • Compound subjects linked by or generally require
    verbs matching the closest noun.
  • A higher reflux ratio or two additional stages
    produce predicted column performance within
  • Two additional stages or a higher reflux ratio
    produces predicted column performance within
  • Indefinite pronouns generally require singular
  • Each of the experiments requires 10 kg of
  • But Some of the experiments require hours to
  • Some of the reagent reacts with the air (similar
    with all, and any).

Active Verbs
  • Forms of the verb to be convey no action, often
    leading to weak sentences.
  • A loose connection was responsible for voltage
    spikes that melted the power supply.
  • Passive verbs focus on what is acted upon rather
    than the actor.
  • The power supply was melted by voltage spikes
    that were caused by a loose connection.
  • Active verbs
  • A loose connection generated voltage spikes,
    melting the power supply.

Some Reference Books
  • Grossman, John, 1993, The Chicago Manual of Style
    The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and
    Publishers (14th Edition), 921 pages
  • Strunk, W. Jr., E. B. White, 2000, The Elements
    of Style, 4th Edition
  • Turabian, K., 1996, A Manual for Writers of Term
    Papers, Theses, and Dissertations,